As the Aggies are set to kick off fall practice on Thursday, here are five key elements to look for leading up to the season:
1) Defense: This is a no brainer. If NMSU can hold teams to under 30 points per game, they will win their fair share of games. This is two-fold, because in the Aggies' case, a good offense can make a good defense. Go up by 14, put a team in pass-first mode, and the D will be better. But at the end of the day it comes down to this: Can the defense win a game or two by themselves? You figure the NMSU offense can pocket at least four games if everybody is healthy. The defense will need to step up as well and steal a couple contests if NMSU is serous about being bowl eligible.
2) Kicking game: This will help the defense as well, if Kyle Hughes can boot balls inside 5-yard line on kickoffs. he has the leg to do it, but will he be on the field? Last year his grades were an issue. Here's to hoping that isn't the case again. Today, someone asked Hal Mumme what freshman can make the biggest impact and he replied kicker Jordan Davenport. Apparently, he has a leg that's comparable to Hughes. Either way, whoever's booting that ball needs to do a better job than what the team has done in the past. This area has been a mess and must be corrected. But I feel if Hughes is on the field, people will be impressed.
3) Offensive line: Losing two players like Mike Martinez and James Farrelly will make an impact at both offensive tackle positions but the question becomes, how big of an impact? The team has two solid leaders on the line with center Richie Bolin and guard Polo Guitierrez. Starting tackles remain a question but that's what camp is for. This unit needs to come together and keep Chase Holbrook standing and throwing the ball downfield. For me, this is a position that could make or break this team. They have to protect Chase and let the passing game fly if the team hopes to be successful.
4) Overall team health: Holbrook needs to stay healthy, but don't underestimate the players around him. On the line, the receivers, led by Chris Williams, the running backs. Defense too, which is extremely thin. Any losses at any position along the defense and it will be felt throughout the entire team. Last season saw injuries mount, making most weeks a lost cause all together. I know some people are tired of hearing about it but there is no denying how things played out. Winning without your best players is tough, really tough. The impact Aggies need to stay on the field.
5) Mumme's job security: Again, this is impossible to ignore. Hal's record in Las Cruces has not been good. 8-29 to be exact, with four of those wins coming against 1-AA teams. Just one on the road. He has to win. It's not a knock. It's a fact, as Division-1 sports are a bottom line business. He will feel the heat if the team is floundering by midseason. Last year the reality was this: Things were going well, all things considered, until the Aggies went to Boise and got roasted. Injuries hit and things just weren't the same. Points won't be a problem but the defense and kicking game need to improve. If they do, the Aggies can get six wins. That's not out of the question at all. But it has to happen. Otherwise, things could fall apart.
No denying that this is a big year for NMSU football. But lets enjoy it. Practice is here and it's a time to be excited. Hope to see you out there.